The Easter holiday is a moveable feast – in the last five seasons it’s been as early as the end of March and as late as the end of April – but regardless of the date there seem to be consistent trends in the Championship. I took a look back at the tables going into the Easter programme from 2006/07 onwards and it would appear that Easter isn’t as crucial to any of the main issues as fans and pundits might like to think:
* In every season since 2006/07, the clubs in the top two positions going into the Easter programme have been promoted. In four of those five seasons the team at the top of the table at Easter has gone on to win the Championship.
* In four of the last five seasons, the playoff winners have been in the top six. The only exception: Blackpool, who were 7th at the start of the Easter programme in 2009/10. Only two of the eventual playoff winners were in third place going into Easter – Birmingham City in 2007 and Hull City the following season.
* At the bottom of the table, the clubs in 23rd and 24th place were eventually relegated in each of those five seasons. However in three of the last five seasons the club in 22nd place managed to survive and in two of those seasons it was the club in 20th place that was relegated
It’s worth pointing out that there are still six games and eighteen points left for each team, but if those trends stay the same the following scenario might not be that much of a a surprise at the end of the month:
Southampton & Reading will be playing in the Premier League next season. Only the top seven clubs have a realistic chance of promotion via the playoffs and although West Ham should qualify for the post season, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in returning the Premier League. At the bottom, Portsmouth & Doncaster appear to be already doomed, Bristol City’s survival is in their own hands and Millwall are not out of the woods by any means.
Although there are a couple of games between the current top six over the next few days, it’s the fixtures at the bottom of the table that are the most interesting, with two clubs currently in the bottom three playing twice against teams in similar positions. Thirty years ago Bristol City were in a very similar position to the one that Portsmouth currently find themselves this season, but both teams are currently in danger of being relegated to League 1 at the end of this month.
It was only four seasons ago that Bristol City were 90 minutes and one win away from playing in the Premier League, but since then there has been an annual decline in their performance in the Championship. At their best, the Robins are a mid table team but they’ve been increasingly unreliable defensively. Combine that with poor starts to the last two campaigns, a bad case of managerial instability and the calamitous lack of goals this term and you have a recipe for Championship disaster that other sides should take note of.
Bristol City’s first game over the Easter period is at Nottingham Forest (5:20pm Saturday, Sky Sports 2), which isn’t exactly a fixture the visitors have had a lot of success in over the years. The Robins haven’t won at Forest in a league game since November 1955 (fourteen games at the City Ground since) but have at least ground out draws at Portsmouth and Middlesbrough in their last two away games – although drawing at Middlesbrough is arguably the least any visiting club should expect this season. It’s also worth remembering that despite their apparent recent resurgence in form, Forest have only won two of their last ten games at the City Ground and have lost more games than they’ve won against the current bottom six.
On Easter Monday Coventry City are the visitors to Ashton Gate. An own goal from Liam Cooper and a late winner from Cody McDonald meant the Sky Blues won at Hull last weekend for their first away triumph in the league for almost a year, but Coventry have never won consecutive games at Bristol City and have only picked up one point from a possible 12 on their travels against other sides in the bottom six this season. Oddly enough, Bristol City’s home form against their fellow strugglers is the one bright spot at Ashton Gate this season: unbeaten in four games having only conceded one goal.
Having entered administration for the third time since the late 1990s – and with a track record of financial problems dating back to the mid 1970s – Portsmouth have six games to save themselves from being relegated into the bottom half of the football league for the first time since 1982/83. It’s only two years since Portsmouth lost the FA Cup final and were relegated from the Premier League, but it’s worth noting that even without the points deduction the club would be in the bottom six – albeit above Nottingham Forest due to a better goal difference.
The immediate problem Portsmouth face on the field is that they have the toughest Easter games of any of the teams threatened with relegation. Pompey play at Southampton on Saturday lunchtime, which is probably the last game you’d chose under the circumstances: your bitterest rivals are on the point of being promoted to the Premier League, Rickie Lambert is the division’s leading scorer by a mile while you’ve won only one of your last ten away games and have failed to score in six of those games. Not only that, Southampton have won three of their four home games against the current bottom six this season while Portsmouth have lost all but one of their away games against the current top six.
On Monday, Portsmouth play Millwall at Fratton Park in a game where anything could happen. The Lions have a decent record on the road, having lost only three of their last ten away days but then again they’ve only won once at Fratton Park in their last ten visits. Portsmouth’s home form seemed to have improved but their injury time collapse against Burnley last weekend seems to indicate that the uncertainty over the future of the club is taking a toll. I think it’s fair to say that by Monday evening we’ll have a far better idea of the future of Portsmouth FC.
For once there’s a decent amount of Championship football on television over Easter, starting with Reading v Leeds (Sky Sports 1, 2:00pm) and Barnsley v West Ham (BBC1, 5:15pm). I’ve already mentioned Bristol City’s trip to Nottingham Forest tomorrow evening and on Monday evening Birmingham’s trip to West Ham is on Sky Sports 1 at 5:20pm.
All being well I’ll be back on Saturday evening with a quick review of the significant action over the next two days but for now I’ll wish you a Happy Easter…and my next task will be to remember where I’ve hidden my wife’s chocolate egg.